Uncanny valley

There’s this theory in robotics called the Uncanny Valley. It’s now well acknowledged in computer graphics too. It’s when a human character looks and moves almost realistically lifelike yet not quite perfect. And this somethings-not-quite-right can be a bit jarring to watch. So in 3D animation, unless you can depict a human in flawless reality, you shouldn’t even bother. Take a step back.

Pixar know this. They can do perfectly realistic landscapes, seascapes, objects, hair etc – but they keep their distance from lifelike humans and instead have fun with caricatures. Many feature length movies have completely flopped because they dared to walk the valley, like Final Fantasy.

Now meet Emily.

The first question is has she climbed out of the valley. And the second one is, what’s the point? Why not use real actors? Unless you’re talking about actual in-game playing. That could be pretty amazing but I reckon it’d be fad you’d tire of quickly. Of course this technology will most likely be used for some weird-assed porn.

It’s a bit like photorealistic paintings? What’s the point? I still wow at the technical ability of photorealistic paintings but they’re a bit pointless really.

I do enjoy a good dose of twisted hypereality though. Like that Spanish guy who does it all in biros. Juan Franciscoasas, and of course Ron Mueck’s sculptures fucking rock. And there’s a huge photorealistic painting of an old woman in some gallery in Washington DC that I love – it’s made from nothing but thumbprints (and can *not* be found after twenty frigging minutes with Inspector Google).

But when it comes to straight up painting, give me Kandinsky’s bubbles, De Chirico’s dummies, a fractured nude descending a staircase, or Bacon’s twisted torsos any day of the week. Hell even hit me with some Rothko. And what do you mean you could paint that!? Well you didn’t! And more to the point, you couldn’t. Unless he picked out the colours and mixed them for you but you never even considered that monumental part of the process, did you dipwad!?

Way to go on a tangent AND state the obvious.

  • Reply divot

    August 25, 2008, 10:04 am

    If you haven’t, check out Jordi Fornies… (www.jordifornies.com).. exhibiting in Dublin again next month I think…

  • Reply Claire

    August 25, 2008, 10:36 am

    Hmm, I hate mo-cap (markerless or not). Most animators I know hate it. Producers often see it as being cheaper and easier but working with it isn’t like art, it’s like programming and it’s soul-less. I’ve been seeing more of a trend away from hyper-realism in animation lately though and I think these kind of exercises are more novelty. I don’t see the point in doing a photo-realistic film. But….I do remember laughing at computer animators back in college saying “that’ll never catch on” so what do I know!

    Having said that, this attempt is definitely the best I’ve seen (I would like to see it working on a moving character), there’s something still not right about her teeth and her blinks but at least she doesn’t look like a reanimated corpse like the characters in Polar Express.

  • Reply Annie

    August 25, 2008, 3:57 pm

    Article about it on the BBC site today:


    I don’t think animation will ever replace filmmaking. People love filmmaking – the fun is in being on set, with real people and real human error. There is room for both.

  • Reply John Braine

    August 26, 2008, 9:37 am

    Cheers Dave. Will check it out. Stuff on the web site looks good but looks like it’d be much better in person.

    Claire, yeah I found something a bit off about her eyes too. I think they may be too identical.

    Thanks for the BBC link Annie. Yeah I don’t think these technologies will ever get a foothold in movies but you’ll probably see a hell of a lot more dead stars in ads, the fuckers.


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